The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 06

The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 06

***

A few minutes later, Leona strolled onto the parking lot of Pucorl’s garage and Pucorl opened his side door. “Kitten is worried you got lost and Mrs. Grady . . .” Pucorl sighed heavily. “. . . insisted I come pick you up before the magic of my world drove you crazy.”

“I’m fine.”

“I don’t doubt it, but let’s keep them happy. I’ll arrange for some smoked fish for dinner.”

Leona strolled over to the van and leapt in. The door closed and suddenly they were back in the mortal realm. Leaping up to the back of one of the seats, Leona saw that the humans were packing up. She watched as Wilber walked around the campsite, gathering little flicks of light as he went. “What’s he doing?”

“Picking up the wards he put out last night,” came Merlin’s voice. Then the door opened and Kitten climbed into the van. “Bad Leona,” she said in cat.

Leona looked back at the kitten and growled low in her throat. “You don’t own me, little kitten. Behave, or I’ll box your ears.”

“I’m sorry,” Kitten said meekly, “but I was worried.”

“It’s all right.” Leona forgave her and jumped down into Kitten’s lap to be petted.

The others climbed in and Pucorl drove off, following several horsemen.

For the rest of the morning they rode, taking a break every hour and travelling about twelve miles an hour the rest of the time. Around noon, they stopped and set up camp. They would spend the rest of the day and tonight here while the horses grazed and slept. That left plenty of time for Kitten and Paul to be educated in their school on the road. They practiced sword play with wooden swords under the tutelage of Bertrand du Guesclin’s guardsmen, reading and writing, math and physics, from Mrs. Grady and Jennifer Fairbanks, magic from Dr. Delaflote and Wilber, aided by Merlin and Archimedes, and that began the cycle. Mornings were spent travelling, afternoons studying, evenings and nights in Pucorl’s lands, while half the guards kept watch on the campsite within the wards that Wilber set.

Location: On the Road, France

Time: 9:37 AM, August 24, 1372

Wilber sat astride Meurtrier, the war horse that only allowed Wilber to ride him. He wore a saddle, but no bridle and Wilber wore riding boots, but no spurs. He mostly guided Meurtrier by voice, with an occasional movement of his knee. Roger McLean, on another war horse, rode up beside him.

“What’s up?” Wilber asked.

“I want to take the Danube across the Germanies and all the way to the Black Sea.”

“Why all the way? I can see following the Danube until we get to, say, Belgrade, but after that it starts going out of the way.”

“You don’t understand. I don’t want to ride along the banks. I want to buy boats and boat down the river.”

“You think they have river boats big enough for Pucorl? Or do you want him to drive along the banks while we ride boats?”

“If we can’t buy one that’s big enough, we have one built,” Roger said. “Look, boats aren’t faster than horses, but they travel all day and all night. We can stop when we need to pick up something from Pucorl’s lands, and spend the rest of the time traveling. Heck, Wilber — ” By now they were all used to avoiding words that invoked the beings of the netherworld, so heck replaced hell and darn, damn. ” — even traveling ten full hours a day at eight miles an hour would double the miles we cover in a day.”

Wilber took a moment to run the numbers in his head. Not that he doubted Roger, but the guy did get enthusiastic about things. His numbers were good, though, and since people and horses could rest on boats while the boats traveled, they would be better rested.

“We can use the birds, Archimedes, Carlos, and the rest to scout while we travel, so we don’t get ambushed.”

“Carlos, maybe. But Archimedes is Dr. Delaflote’s familiar spirit. He has better things to do than flap around trees. This isn’t Dungeons and Dragons.”

“Fine. Archimedes can lecture Gabriel on the proper way to boil an eye of newt. By now half of Bertrand’s men at arms have some sort of familiar. Even Louis has that glider Jennifer made for him.”

The glider in question was bat-winged, made of sticks and lacquered cloth, and was halfway between a triangular kite from the twentieth century and a model of a bat. It would fly like a kite if you tied a string to it, but it was enchanted and could fly for hours after Louis tossed it into the air. It had three eyes, two looking forward and one looking down, a small speaker, and two bats ears, so it could even do echolocation. Louis had paid Wilber a goodly amount for enchanting it.

Wilber looked up. Ariel was flying right now. He could barely see it, because it was painted blue gray on the bottom. “We need to talk to Bertrand.”

“Right. I called him last night, but we didn’t get into it,” Roger agreed. “Whose phone is he using today?”

Bertrand didn’t own a phone. Only the twenty-firsters, the King of France, and God owned phones. But Bertrand usually borrowed someone’s phone so that he could be reached if anything came up. Annabelle’s or Wilber’s most often. After all, Annabelle was in Pucorl most of the time and Pucorl had his own phone. Roger pulled his phone from his pocket and said, “Clausewitz, find Bertrand would you, and see if he’s busy. Wilber and I want to talk to him.”

***

As it happened, Bertrand was carrying Annabelle’s phone. Enzo said, “Phone call from Roger, General. You want to take it?”

Bertrand looked around. He was riding with the scouting element, ten horsemen who were riding a quarter mile ahead of the main party, scouting the trail as much for deadfalls and trees that would need to be cut to let Pucorl and the cardinal’s wagons through as for bandits.

They were in a grove of trees, but it was a small one and Bertrand could see the fields of a village ahead. “I’ll ride back, Enzo. Tell Roger I’ll be there in a minute.” He turned his horse and put it into a trot with a squeeze of his knees.

***

By the time he got back to the main body, Roger, Wilber, and Jennifer Fairbanks were all riding next to Pucorl, with Mrs. Grady leaning out of the passenger side window.

“What brings about this conclave of twenty-firsters?” Bertrand asked.

“Noah, here,” Amelia Grady hooked a thumb at Roger, “wants to build an ark.”

After that, they explained the plan as they rode along the path. Bertrand had the same basic concern that Sun Tzu had. Bertrand was fond of Roger’s computer. It was teaching him Go and chess. Pucorl was in favor of the idea. He had a good bit of biodiesel stored in his garage, but didn’t like wasting it.

They spent the rest of the morning discussing the possibilities of enchanted river boats and what sort of demon would be best to enchant them.

Location: On the Road, France

Time: 2:14 PM, August 24, 1372

As they drove along, Pucorl was playing music over the stereo system. It was quiet music, and at first Annabelle didn’t notice. Then Paul started singing along.

“We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.”

Annabelle rolled her eyes. “This is hardly a yellow brick road, Pucorl. And we aren’t headed for Australia, anyway.”

“Besides,” Amelia Grady said, taking hold of Gabriel Delafolte’s arm, “We have the best wizard on Earth right here with us.”

“You want to play something a bit more grown-up?” Annabelle asked.

“Pucorl and grown-up don’t belong in the same sentence,” Paul announced. “That’s what Mom says.”

Pucorl sniffed loudly over the sound system. “I am most profoundly displeased.” Then he giggled.

Amelia’s phone Laurence said, in the voice of Laurence Olivier, “Well, we could be on a yellow brick road. At least in Pucorl’s lands.”

***

And so it proved. For that night, when they returned to the netherworld, the blacktop road that led to Pucorl’s Garage had been replaced by a two-lane-wide yellow brick road.

 

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